Meet the 'world-class' Indian physio working for the Pakistan hockey team

Physio Rajakamal and the Pakistan hockey team at the 2023 Asian Champions Trophy ESPN

It's been several years since the Pakistan hockey team last played in India but they have a local helping hand for the ongoing Asian Champions Trophy: their physio Rajakamal, a last-minute replacement for their regular physio who couldn't travel because of visa issues.

An SOS call just prior to the start of the tournament led the Pakistani team to Rajakamal, who's been working with the Tamil Nadu state hockey team this year. He will be the lone physio in the squad - the Pakistani assistant physio had a personal emergency and couldn't travel either.

"They got in touch with me just one day before their first match," he told reporters after Pakistan's 1-1 draw against Korea Republic on Friday. However, there has been little time for him to ease into his job. Pakistan's opener - which they lost 3-1 to Malaysia - finished around 8pm local time, while his treatments carried on well past midnight.

Rajakamal has also worked for the past three seasons with the Tamil Nadu Premier League cricket team Nellai Royal Kings.

He says that communication hasn't been an issue, even through the existing language barrier. "I speak with them in English, we translate for each other and communicate," he said. "They have all made me feel welcome here, it's a very comfortable atmosphere."

The Chennai native, who has been a sports physio since 2016, said that there will be no split loyalties on August 9, when India take on Pakistan. "I'll always be Indian, but on the day of the match, I'm only thinking about players coming through the game without any injuries," he said.

The physio, who has also worked in squash and boxing before, said the specific demands of hockey have to be considered while he carries out his current assignment. "This is an endurance-based sport," he said. "You have to be athletic. It's not about strength, it's about endurance."

"As a physio, you need to be ready for contusion injuries, there is even the possibility of fractures and dislocations through collisions, which is not the case in a sport like cricket," he added.

Muhammad Saqlain, Pakistan's coach here in the absence of chief coach Shahnaz Sheikh, was full of praise for Rajakamal. "He is incredible at his job, world-class," he said.

Saqlain called Rajakamal a 'godsend', saying that his team were lucky to have found him at short notice.